A new documentary about the rise and impact of fast fashion had a major screening at Cannes last week, receiving praise from Harvey Weinstein and audiences. It’s now headed to New York and Los Angeles for special week-long engagements.
Documentary filmmaker Andrew Morgan spent two years exploring the economic, environmental and human impact of the disposable, cheap clothes and shoes many of us are buying in the film, called “The True Cost.“
Showing the glamour of the fashion runways alongside the life-or-death fight by garment workers around the world, the film brings up many questions about labor issues. And as the U.S. looks to expand its trading partners, it comes at a crucial moment in the conversation. FN spoke to Morgan to talk about the impact of the film on him personally and the lessons he wants audiences to come away with. The film will be released worldwide May 29.
You explore both sustainability and human rights in the film. How did you land on those two issues?
Going into the film I understood some basic facts: Fashion is the No. 2 most polluting industry on earth. I understood that it was the most labor dependent industry on earth. I wanted to try to connect it to a human place so we can realize together, that this is this person’s one experience on planet earth. This is a human being’s life and if it makes us uncomfortable with how that life is being commoditized in terms of labor or how its being valued in terms of the water or the air that they need to survive, then we need to address that.
You spent two years making the film. What was the most challenging part of it for you personally?
Based on the production schedule, we were moving back and forth between very different parts of the world. We filmed in more than 25 cities in 13 countries. What was startling was the contrast. I think again this sounds so basic, but we would have weeks where in the same week I would be on a huge fashion runway in Paris with famous designers and later I would be in some of the darkest slums and factories.
How do you think that changed you?
I’ve grown up knowing that our world, in some ways increasingly so, has this contrast of those who have the resources and opportunities to make their lives better and those who don’t. I’m a father and husband and on a human level [what I encountered] caught me off guard. I think I was really struck by the humanity of it and struck by just how much work we still have to do in the world. I think for me personally it really made me really grateful for the resources and opportunity and influence I was born into. It heightened the level of how much I want to use that influence well.
We live in a world with fast fashion, where something goes down the runway and a few weeks later, it’s on store shelves. So how does someone get a fashion fix responsibly?
In a lot of way we’ve become addicted to incredible cheap and disposable clothing. I think we have to step back from that. If you’re someone who loves fashion and that is what is driving you, then that’s great, but take the next step to begin investing in pieces that are actually made with artistry and quality. Pieces you’re going to have and hold on to for a long time. Let’s use our dollars and cast votes with what we buy to support the kind of world we want to have. I think you can do that without sacrificing style.
It is a tough challenge though, because not all consumers have that kind of disposable income. So what do you say to them?
I think that is true. There is a broader economic set of issues here. I would say this: as much as I am trying to be hopeful and inspire customers to think more thoughtfully and make good choices, first and foremost this is a business issue. I think one of the mistakes that has been made is to make customers feel responsible for this. Like it’s their fault that business has created a model that is just built on blind production, massive consumption, staggering amounts of resources and unprecedented waste. As customers we need to put pressure, and vote with dollars, to make our voices heard that we don’t want this. On the business side, there has to be ongoing pressure that you can’t operate in a way that makes this quarter profit better [than the last] at the expense of severely damaging the world that our children are going to inherit.
The sustainability issue is something that more people are being mindful of and there are some big faces in fashion that are pushing this. Talk about what you learned and what you want people to take away.
There was a feeling for awhile that this was going to be a fad that came and went, so a lot of companies decided to wait it out and do business as usual. I think what is exciting is that businesses that are actually choosing to make business choices to impact the model of how they make things, and not just the marketing.